Even If You Do Nothing Wrong, You're Still Being Targeted

Written By Ryan Stancil

Posted July 11, 2014

Paranoia and assumptions of people being guilty until proven innocent are the orders of the day at the National Security Agency.

As people all across the nation headed to cookouts, crab feasts, and beaches in celebration of the 4th of July, it was revealed that the NSA had been targeting users of software designed to make their activities anonymous.

In particular, this meant they were keeping a close eye on people who used the network Tor or operating systems like Tails.

Tor works by sending web traffic through a number of random servers, or nodes, spread out across the world so that the source becomes practically impossible to trace. Tails, and other operating systems like it, are loaded via a disk or USB stick and force all traffic to go through Tor. Once you’re finished, the operating system erases all traces of your session and leaves nothing on the computer. It’s like you were never there.

With terrorists lurking around every corner and extremists becoming the biggest threat to the American way since the Red Menace, there’s no way the NSA could simply let those seeking privacy run wild.

That’s why it’s been using its “Xkeyscore” system to find IP addresses connected to these privacy tools and flag them for further monitoring.

For now, the practice doesn‘t extend to IP addresses that appear to come from the so called “Five Eyes” nations, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, because of an existing agreement where intelligence is shared among them, but the fact that this is happening at all still has troubling implications.

Who is Being Targeted and Who Can Be Targeted?

Outwardly, this system is being used to target people who not only participate in terror-related activities, but criminal activities as well.

Tor and other privacy tools can be used for criminal endeavors like drug dealing, identity theft, and child pornography, but it seems inevitable that people who simply want to browse the Internet without someone watching their every move will get caught up as well.

The practice of bulk data collection by the NSA is widely documented and in play when it comes to the use of Xkeyscore. In essence, it won’t matter if the NSA is actively looking for a person’s online activities, because there’s a strong chance they’ll already have them logged.

This may or may not deter criminals and terrorists from doing what they do, but what about others?

I’m talking of course about people like journalists, whistle blowers, or anyone who might use the Internet to search for something that someone in a position of power might not agree with. When you throw in emails and other forms of messaging that the NSA can access through its tools, you can see why someone with important but damning information, or someone with a dissenting point of view might be in trouble.

As the worldwide surveillance machine marches forward and clamps down on “extremists”, people who think of themselves as potential targets might be discouraged from speaking against those in power, actively pursuing change, or exchanging ideas with other like-minded individuals.

But maybe that’s been the play here all along…

Regardless, as this continues, it becomes increasingly apparent that the erosion of freedoms is going to continue for everyone who isn’t in the habit of seeing threats to their power everywhere.

As these things tend to go, this will probably get worse before it gets better. The people responsible for carrying out these sorts of actions promise that this is to preserve our freedom, but I guess that only really applies if you don’t care much about actually being free.

Keep your eyes open,
Ryan Stancil